UNION SQUARE — Bike lanes and parking lanes along Fifth Avenue should be switched to prevent motorists from double parking in cycling routes, according to a new proposal by a transportation advocacy group.
Transportation Alternatives, an activist group, is asking the Department of Transportation to flip the layout of bike lanes on Fifth Avenue between 14th and 23rd streets, moving the bike lane so that it's next to the curb and protecting cyclists from scofflaw drivers, according to a representative of the group.
The current layout on that stretch puts parking in between the bike lane and car traffic, so that cars have to go through the bike lane to park — which can be hazardous for cyclists, according to Janet Liff, the co-chair of the organization’s Manhattan chapter.
The group is proposing to move the bike lane in and the parking out to deter cars from double parking in the existing painted bike-lane buffer and create a smooth transition from traffic to parking without interrupting the bike lane.
“By having parking as it is now, cars are constantly cutting across the bike lane,” Liff said. “With a curbside bike lane the parking would create a buffer.”
A recent traffic count by Transportation Alternatives found that 10 percent of vehicles on the avenue were bikes, making the corridor too busy for the danger to be ignored, Liff said.
During a presentation to Community Board 5 on Monday, the group passed around photos taken by members showing numerous drivers parked in the bike lane, forcing cyclists out of their designated lane.
“Anyone who rides down that segment knows it’s kind of a faux bike lane,” Liff said. “Cyclists are pushed out of the bike lane and forced to weave in and out of traffic.”
Pedestrians would also benefit by having the bike lane flush with the curb, Liff said.
“You’d have a pedestrian refuge space on the traffic-side of the bike lane, and you would shorten the crossing distance,” she said. “Additionally, pedestrians would have a better line of sight and you wouldn’t have them drifting into the street to see if cars are coming. Right now on Fifth Avenue most of the pedestrians are halfway into the street."
In the process of passing a separate resolution concerning bike lanes in Union Square, CB5's transportation committee tacked on a clause suggesting that the Department of Transportation study whether flipping parking and bike lanes on Fifth Avenue would be feasible.
A representative of the DOT, Ted Wright, expressed carefully worded support for the idea, but cautioned that it would take time to implement it even if DOT did sign off on it.
“That would be a big project,” Wright said. “It’s something that excites me, and I can’t say we haven’t looked at it, but it would potentially involve concrete. It would be a biggie.”